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    Thursday, March 7, 2013

    By Helene “Stanky” Gresser

    I stood outside my apartment building tonight and looked at the cigarette I was sucking down like a caricature of Denis Leary and whispered, “I love you so much, I hate you.”

    In the past eight months I have become an obsessive smoker.  I am now up to a little over a pack a day.  The FIRST thing I want in the morning, before I drink the water I always keep bedside, before I pee, before I turn on the coffeemaker, I smoke a damn cigarette. Sometimes I smoke THREE before I get up to make the coffee, stopping only to pop my much-needed Adderall and slug some H2O before I light another.

    Today I ran out of cigarettes midday, after having purchased a pack last night during my bartending shift. I was fine for a while, busy with work on the computer and making calls.  But when my roomie came home, I begged a Cigarillo off her (she works for the company and gives out samples at stores, so she always has a stash.)  Then I begged for another, and then a third. I had six dollar bills in my purse, and cigarettes cost about thirteen bucks here in NYC. By 9:56 p.m. I was scavenging my purses and coats and jeans for quarters, finding exactly seven dollars in change in addition to my six dollar bills, and limped off to the corner bodega (I have some weird red swelling on my third left toe, and I did not stub nor break it.) I muttered out loud to the gods “Please, please, don’t be out of fucking cigarettes. I would suck cock for a cigarette right now.”  I said this OUT LOUD. I was scanning the sidewalk for “street ciggies” – a habit I picked up last summer in my insomnia-ridden walks around my block. Street ciggies. That means I will pick up a carelessly tossed, half-smoked cigarette, break off the end that goes in the mouth, and fucking SMOKE A CIGARETTE I FOUND ON THE SIDEWALK. Sometimes, I find a whole, untouched cigarette that has fallen out of some drunken kid’s pack. O glorious find, the whole ciggie.

    The grungy bodega was out of cigarettes, after experiencing a brief and heartbreaking misunderstanding with the barely-English-speaking Dominican boy behind the counter in which I literally put my hands in prayer and said “Please say you have cigarettes!” and he said “What kind?” and I jubilantly asked for ANYTHING non-menthol. He then said “No cigarettes. No cigarettes.” I wanted to throttle him. He pointed to the next block’s bodega and I hobbled quickly there to find my glorious fix, quietly apologizing to the owner for paying in piles of quarters. I have been smoking Parliament 100’s lately, because they are LONG and last a seeming nanosecond longer than my usual choice of either Camels or Marlboro Lights. I opened the pack like Charlie in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” opening a deliciously decadent Wonka bar – filled with joy and anticipation as well as massive guilt, knowing I should use that precious change for food or laundry or something practical. But sweet Baby Jesus, I wanted that first puff more than I wanted a sandwich or clean undies.

    I have smoked three cigarettes while typing this. There are tiny ashes sprinkled on my laptop keyboard. It is thirty degrees and a coming Nor’easter wind is blowing through my perpetually open bedroom window. I am wearing jeans, a hoodie sweatshirt, and fuzzy socks under my duvet cover. The fresh air does not do much to help the fact that everything in my room reeks of cigarette funk. The odor reminds me of my Grandma Gresser’s house, my Uncle Tom’s Volkswagen, my brother’s former apartment – all furniture, sheets, clothes, towels, vinyl seats saturated with nicotine, a smell I hated. I still hate it. It’s in my hair soon after I shower, and I love having sweet-smelling hair. It is on my breath as I whisper in my friend’s ear as I slink in late to a comedy gig. My favorite waiter at the restaurant where I tend bar waves his hand in front of his nose after I take a smoke break, telling me to suck a lemon to take away the stank-breath. 

    What the hell has happened to me?

    I have smoked casually off-and-on since I started bartending back in 2000, when smoking was still allowed in bars, and I decided to “learn” to actually smoke, to inhale, to counteract the smoke surrounding me, making me more tolerant of the smell. I would get dizzy if I smoked more than one or two, or even sometimes a half a cigarette was enough to nauseate me. I liked a “sneaky smoke” with a girlfriend after a drink or two or a big dinner, or on my travels to Italy, where smoking Italian cigarettes was fantastic with an espresso at an outdoor café. But I rarely bought a pack, just bummed them from friends. If I did buy a pack, back in the day when they were actually fairly cheap, I’d end up leaving at least half the pack on top of a garbage can for some lucky sucker looking for their own street ciggies.

    When I was dating a fellow actor on a children’s theater tour, we shared a motel room and I’d beg him to smoke outside, as the smoke would keep me from sleeping.  The time I actually bought a pack and smoked several ciggies  - to quell my anxiety about attending yet another friend’s wedding reception solo - I had to pull over my rented car to vomit from the nausea that overtook me after three cigarettes smoked on an empty stomach.

    I started smoking more often after September 11th, when I was overcome with incapacitating anxiety and insomnia, hearing F-16s droning regularly over the Hudson in the days and weeks after the horror, and I could not go for more than a couple of hours sleep without turning on the news to see if something else terrible might be heading our way. I smoked on the stoop. My favorite news anchor Peter Jennings started smoking again after quitting the habit for nearly twenty years because of the attacks, and then he died a few years later from lung cancer. My Grandma Gresser, a life-long smoker, died of cancer throughout her body. I have seen the gross anti-smoking ads, I know what it does to your body.

    My fifty-year old brother and his girlfriend have quit smoking recently. My brother has been smoking since he was about sixteen. I am in awe that he is actually stopping. My father used to smoke Camels unfiltered for years, and then quit cold turkey along with my stepmother.  I remember clearly when I was about five years old, my father tossed a Camel from the car window and it flew into the back and landed in the crease of the back seat cushions, where it went unnoticed until my foot, which is habitually tucked under my backside when I sit, suddenly felt very hot. He had to stop the car and hurriedly prevent the whole damn seat from bursting into flames. My dad was the only person on which I actually enjoyed tobacco scent. It mixed with the Clove gum he chewed and his Aramis cologne. As a child I would bury my nose in the brown corduroy sport jacket he regularly kept on a coat stand in his university office, and breathe in his dad-smell, comforting and safe.

    I am dating a smoker who has been smoking far longer than my measly few months, and even he looks at me and says,” You just had one. You’re lighting another?” and he refuses to let me smoke more than one while we snuggle together watching a movie on his bed before we turn in for the night. Sometimes I quietly sneak out of bed when he dozes off and grab one to smoke in the next room, like some sort of naughty child, guilty and pleased with myself at the same time, Ha ha, I got away with it.

    Jesus Christ, I’m now more than halfway through the pack I just bought.

    Yes, it’s been a shitty, uber-stressful, tumultuous year for me, and I use that as an excuse for my new addiction. I tried to stop for a couple days with the aid of electronic cigarettes. My psychiatrist offered me Wellbutrin, which, when I did take it as an antidepressant a few years back, completely eliminated my desire to smoke even casual post-drinking ciggies. But it also gave me migraines and made my hair all thin and flat and I hated the drug. I don’t think the patch would work for me, I love the physical act of smoking: the lighting, the first scent of burning paper, the inhale, the exhale and relief that comes over me.

    I am disgusted with myself for the money I spend on packs, the dependence, and the loss of control over my urge to self-destruct. I used to get furious when walking behind a smoker on a beautiful spring day, when I wanted to breathe in the sweet lilacs in bloom, not some crappy-ass tobacco stench. Now I get the dirty looks. Once a dog-owner stopped me from petting his dog, for fear my cigarette smoke would stink up his puppy-fur. I am a pariah. Addict. Idiot.

    I am going to quit. Really, I am. But I just watched this Bill Hicks bit and lit another goddamn ciggie. I have just enough left to get me through the morning.


    p.s. I just HAD to include this video I found. It made me laugh out loud and WANT A DAMN CIGGIE. Watch it:

  2. 3 comments:

    1. i am a smoker and yes it sucks in many ways. i sure relate to so much you share, and i love your way with words -- "my urge to self-destruct." oh sister, i know.

    2. Anonymous said...

      You will stop when you're ready. Don't beat yourself up about it.

    3. She So Funny said...

      I love smoking. Thank gods for e-cigs. (If my f*#cking computer doesn't stop auto-correcting cigs to cogs or digs I'm going to throw this out the window). xoxoxoxoxo ~S

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